Nico Rosberg cruised to an easy win at the Russian Grand Prix as team-mate Lewis Hamilton bounced-back from a difficult lead-up to the race to secure second place.
Rosberg landed his fourth win of the season in style with the first ‘Grand Slam’ of his career – claiming pole position, fastest lap and race victory with every lap led. He is also now just the fourth driver in history – after Alberto Ascari, Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel – to win seven races in a row.
But Rosberg didn’t go completely unchallenged and a fight-back from Hamilton reduced the lead to just 7.5 seconds before a water pressure issue in the engine forced him to coast to the finish. Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen claimed third position in front the Williams car driven by Valtteri Bottas.
Collisions, retirements and penalties – all on the opening lap
Much like the previous race in China, the opening lap played a key role in shaping the outcome of the race. Starting from pole, Rosberg stormed through incident free and left all of the carnage behind him to begin building a comfortable lead at the front.
Meanwhile, the tight Turn 2 created havoc. Red Bull’s Daniil Kyvat shunted into the back of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who lurched sideways into fellow Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo. With Vettel driving cautiously out of the corner, Kyvat again hit his rear at speed and forced the Ferrari into the barrier and early retirement.
Vettel accused Kyvat of causing their accident in China by “driving like a torpedo” so with tension already high Vettel delivered an expletive ridden tirade over the radio.
For his part, Kyvat was remorseful after the race and apologised to Vettel and Ricciardo.
“There was a bit going on and I think in the last moment I didn’t expect it to slow so much,” explained Kyvat.
“I tried to press the brakes, the rear wheels locked and the first contact came from that. The second contact he just slowed down a lot, I couldn’t see ahead, and I didn’t have time to react.
“All the mess came from me … of course it doesn’t feel great but these things happen sometimes. It’s probably the messiest of my career. I will learn from it – and of course apologies to everyone involved.”
Ricciardo couldn’t bounce back from the incident – made worse by a decision to switch to medium tyres – while Kyvat earned a 10 second penalty, effectively ending his race and he finished in 15th.
Further back in the field, Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg was also hit from behind on Turn 2 by Esteban Gutierrez. It was, remarkably, Hulkenberg’s second consecutive retirement at Sochi on the opening lap.
‘Tough to hang on’ for Hamilton
Hamilton made a spirited fight-back just to get onto the podium after a tough weekend.
For the second race in a row, Hamilton’s qualifying session was ended prematurely by a problem with the MGU-H – the part of the hybrid system that recovers energy from the turbo.
In a remarkable 24 hours, Mercedes flew in engine parts on a specially chartered plane from their Northamptonshire factory to Sochi. The details and logistics are mind boggling – with Niki Lauda coordinating the plane, a Russian employee at Mercedes arranging the landing slot at Sochi, and Bernie Ecclestone smoothing over customs and allowing the parts to be on the road to the circuit within 90 seconds of the plane landing. From there, the Mercedes team worked frantically over night to get Hamilton onto the grid.
But Hamilton’s second place still leaves him a huge 43 points behind Rosberg in the championship. The lack of reliability and early inconsistency will surely give him something to think about before the next race.
“I’m just relieved to have made it to the flag after how this weekend has been,” said Hamilton.
“I’ve got a long way to go yet this season with not many healthy engine parts left, so we need to do a better job on reliability.”
McLaren, Renault and Haas in the points
The opening lap incidents combined with some strong driving saw other teams further back on the grid collect some useful points.
Renault’s Kevin Magnussen secured his first points of the year with a strong seventh finish, Romain Grosjean from Haas was back in the points claiming 8th place.
McLaren’s permanent drivers – Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button – finished in the top ten for the first time this year doing away with the ignominy of having their only world championship points scored by a reserve driver.